UBS – getting people back to work after a break

Many companies now offer returner programmes, but there are different types. UBS’ UK programme leads directly to a senior level job from day one.  We find out more. 

Job interview


Many companies now offer returner programmes, but there are different types. UBS’ UK programme leads directly to a senior level job from day one.

There are many benefits of this approach – it means candidates are on a par with their peers and it allows employers to increase diversity at senior levels, given most returners still tend to be women.

“Like other businesses, we tend to lose women at the mid-management level and when they try to re-enter the workforce they find it more challenging. There is a huge pool of candidates that have experience they can bring back, who have already worked their way up the career ladder and so can re-enter at a senior level,” says Sophie Robson, Diversity & Inclusion Specialist at UBS.

Its one-year Career Comeback Programme [CCP] was rolled out in the UK in 2017, following a pilot programme in the US and Switzerland. In the US, this initially took the form of an internship model while in Switzerland the permanent hiring model was tested to find out what worked best.

Over 1,500 people have now applied to the programme.  Robson says around 10% are valid candidates in that they meet the eligibility criteria and are of the level of seniority the financial services company is looking for. Just under 100 have been hired. With a 99% retention rate, several have been identified as key talents for promotion.

Career Comeback

In the UK people apply for a single generic Career Comeback position and CVs are distributed to relevant hiring managers based on skillsets. In Switzerland there are specific Career Comeback roles advertised due to the nature of jobs in the country [the company’s origins are in the Swiss banking world, but it reoriented in 2012 to become more focused on Wealth Management] and the way different recruiting teams work. The programme also operates in India at a more junior level due to the nature of UBS’ work there.

Robson says there was a debate about which model would work most effectively in which place. The US programme, for instance, has gone from an internship model to a direct hiring one.

The aim is to attract quality candidates, with the intention being that recruiters were best placed to match people who have taken time out to the roles that suit their skillsets and experience. Recruiters brief the candidates on why they have been shortlisted for a specific role in advance of the interview and help them to prepare.

Robson says it is clear from feedback that some returners are very nervous about the interview process because it may have been a long time since they were last interviewed.

UBS has taken this feedback and produced a video giving candidates tips on preparing for interviews and not apologising for their career gaps. Robson says questions such as ‘can you give me a recent example where you have done x’ can prove difficult for returners, but line managers are aware that they have taken a career break and take this into account.

“They can struggle for recent examples and may feel the need to apologise about that. They often don’t think about the experience they have had outside work. The video helps them to think about what other experience they have which has given them transferable skills and why having that different perspective can be a benefit to the business,” says Robson.

Robson says that, while some roles may require candidates to have up to date knowledge of specific areas, which some returners may lack, many hirers are looking for experience and a broader range of skills.

In addition to interview advice, line managers are given training in best practice interview techniques, with unconscious bias built in to ensure people are not automatically dismissed because of assumptions made about the impact of career breaks.

The training emphasises what returners can contribute and line managers are also informed about the positive feedback that other managers have given to the programme, for instance, about how highly motivated returners often are.

This training, which was given to those managers who have hired the most people at mid-management level, is now provided in-house which means it can be rolled out to more hiring managers.

Onboarding programme

Every division of the firm has a senior CCP sponsor. The returners go on a two-week onboarding course where they can get ahead with any mandatory training they need to do, get IT support, get introduced to senior business representatives and receive transition coaching. Each returner is given a senior mentor and a buddy, from a previous cohort, if possible.

Returners use an interactive app during the onboarding so they can read materials and get up to speed in their own time. The app also enables UBS to collect ratings for each onboarding session and gauge interaction so it can measure what went well and what could be improved.

Line managers also get coaching and are given a courtesy call halfway through the programme to identify any areas that need attention.

Over the course of the year returners have lunches with senior role models every six weeks to grow their network.

All returners are also able to request flexible working.  Forty per cent of the Swiss intake in 2018 worked part time. In fact, two returners with similar skillsets in Switzerland have done a job share.

In the UK just one person has asked to work part time. Recruiters work closely with hiring managers to meet flexible working requests of candidates, discussing how roles can be performed in a way to suit both the candidate and UBS. Moreover, UBS has an agile working culture so returners are also able to work from home if necessary.

In addition to the support available during the year the programme runs, UBS is keen to create an alumni network so returners have an ongoing support network available to them and alumni Whatsapp groups are being formed.

UBS hopes that the programme will help counter any negative bias to returners through hiring manager experience of the calibre of people coming through the programme and through the promotion of case studies around the company.

The fact that returners are coming directly into senior roles and that the emphasis is on building the senior leadership pipeline mean that they will be able to have a significant impact on transforming attitudes to people who have taken a career break now and in the future.

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